Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sandwiches on Children's Day

As happened five years ago, Sandwiches on Sunday (SOS) coincided with Children's Day. The normally empty parking lot was filled with music, booths, and children.

We unloaded the dishes from the cars and parked several blocks away while volunteers carried them in.

Five churches take turns serving a free meal and distributing a take-home bagged lunch at 12 noon every Sunday at the Redwood City community center.

Undeterred by the Children's Day festival, 60 people found their way around the buildings to the back entrance and the picnic table, where we had set out baked chicken, salad, and bread. Though we prepared enough food for 100 people, an hour later it was all gone, packed in containers that diners took home with their bagged lunches.

God loves a cheerful giver, and what adds to the cheer is knowing that people like one's cooking enough to take the leftovers home.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Friday Night Headlights

It was 9:30 p.m., long after rush hour. We were tooling along on Hwy 101 North when traffic came to a dead stop. That's when we noticed the electronic billboard--"Northbound 101 closed at Ralston" (we had to get to the exit past Ralston). An unplanned freeway closure--was ist los? It wasn't a good sign that there were headlights of cars coming toward us on the right shoulder. Impatient souls had turned around and were going southbound on northbound 101.

My passengers looked up the reason for the closure: there was a freeway shooting at 5:30, and four hours later the police were still clearing the scene. It took us 90 minutes to travel the six miles to home.

Thoughts: 1) We were lucky that we didn't have anywhere we had to be, like SFO. 2) We were lucky that we had a full tank of gas and no one had to go to the bathroom; 3) Did all lanes of a major freeway have to be shut down for six hours because of a single shooting death (and only minor vehicular damage)? Another example of how real life isn't CSI.

[Update - May 1: Police: Suspect in highway police shooting was attempting carjacking:
The suspect fatally shot by California Highway Patrol officers on Highway 101 in San Mateo Thursday evening was in the process of attempting to carjack a woman at gunpoint, police said.

The suspect, whose identity hasn't yet been released, was attempting to steal the car of another driver, a 55-year-old woman from the East Bay, according to San Mateo police Capt. Dave Norris.

The incident was originally reported as a collision, and the woman was uninjured beyond a complaint of pain from the collision, Norris said.

The suspect reportedly got out of a vehicle on the highway's northbound lanes and began shooting. Three CHP officers responded to the scene just after 5:30 p.m. and engaged with the armed man, police said.

All three fired their weapons, killing him, according to police. Northbound Highway 101 was closed for hours, creating a massive traffic jam at rush hour and beyond.

California Highway Patrol officers arrived on the scene to find the suspect brandishing a handgun, Norris said.

Independent witnesses confirmed that the officers tried to de-escalate the suspect's behavior, Norris said, ordering him to drop the firearm and attempting to negotiate with him.

CHP officers at the scene and responding San Mateo police made efforts to render first aid to the suspect immediately following the shooting, Norris said.]

Friday, April 28, 2017

ATT: the Penultimate Straw

Thirteen years ago we had decent diversification in our communications providers: DirecTV for television, SBC for WiFi and landline, and Sprint for wireless. In 2007 we moved the wireless to AT&T, which was the only carrier that could carry the iPhone initially.

SBC/ATT went on an acquisition binge--its latest being DirecTV in 2015---and now provides all four of our services (wireless, landline, TV, and WiFi). Like clockwork AT&T jacks up prices annually, but just below the pain point for switching. We now pay a total of $500 a month, about 50% higher than for the same services five years ago (worse than it sounds because the DSL is appallingly slow while the competition has raced ahead).

The pain point was reached when AT&T today sent out emails to customers who have a grandfathered unlimited data plan for the iPad; the unlimited status is essentially being eliminated on May 24, 2017. (This affects one member of our household.)

In 2017 Mickey still worked
In the next month we will take up Comcast on its offer to provide TV and WiFi for $69.99 per month, more than a $100 per month savings over DirecTV and AT&T's snail-like DSL. The big switcheroo will come this fall when the new iPhone comes out. Four lines will move to Verizon, Sprint, or T-Mobile, and AT&T will lose our $300-per-month cellphone (it was $200 a few years ago) account.

I'll still keep the AT&T landline. Old-fashioned single-purpose phones still operate on it, and because it has a separate power source the landline may still work when cell, WiFi, and electrical services are out, another instance of diversification lowering risk.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Accountants Get Respect

In honor of April, a very taxing month, I rented The Accountant from Netflix. Ben Affleck stars as Chris Wolff, an adult high-functioning autistic with genius skills in accounting, martial arts, weaponry, and mathematics. He also has the problems of those afflicted with autism and Asperger's, such as difficulties socializing and adapting to unexpected events, and hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch.

There are several mysteries that propel the story: how did the Accountant acquire his skills, what is his relation to law enforcement, some of whom regard him as an arch-criminal, and what's going on with millions of dollars appearing and disappearing from Living Robotics, a company about to have an IPO?

There's a lot of violence and gunplay, and all the major mysteries are explained by the time the credits roll.

I enjoyed the movie not only because of the unusual characteristics of the protagonist but also because the writers took the risk of inserting some finance-geek dialogue. It's about time accountants got respect!

Financial statement analysis unearths the problem

A big reveal, though "not in a commensurate fashion" doesn't have the ring of "Luke, I am your father."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ben Shows the Way

Ben Affleck, starring as the titular character in The Accountant, demonstrates how to attract women like Anna Kendrick:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A-"head" of Their Time

Headline: New computers could delete thoughts without your knowledge, experts warn.

(Business Insider image)
For 90 years wearers of tin-foil hats have been mocked as paranoid conspiracy theorists [bold added].
Julian Huxley, brother of "Brave New World" author Aldous Huxley, coined the concept in his 1927 work "The Tissue-Culture King":

"Well, we had discovered that metal was relatively impervious to the telepathic effect, and had prepared for ourselves a sort of tin pulpit, behind which we could stand while conducting experiments. This, combined with caps of metal foil, enormously reduced the effects on ourselves."
They may have been right...but just a little early.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Inconvenient Truth: the Crime Edition

For your own sake put your laptop away 
On Saturday night dozens of "minors" swarmed a BART train at the Oakland Coliseum station [bold added]:
Witnesses told police that 40 to 60 juveniles flooded the station, jumped the fare gates and rushed to the second-story train platform. Some of the robbers apparently held open the doors of a Dublin-bound train car while others streamed inside, confronting and robbing and in some cases beating riders...

[S]even people were robbed — with the victims losing a purse, a duffel bag and five phones. Six people were robbed inside the train car, with a seventh confronted on the platform, she said. Police received no reports of guns or other weapons being brandished.

A police summary prepared after the incident said that at least two victims suffered injuries to the face or head that required medical attention.
The story resonates because it's easy to identify with the victims. BART has hundreds of thousands of daily riders, and the Coliseum station is along one of the busiest arteries.

BART isn't sharing surveillance videos "because the attackers appear to be minors." That's not the real reason, IMHO.

Crime is rampant in the area--notorious gangs are headquartered nearby---and BART doesn't want to strike fear in the heart of suburban customers commuting to their jobs in San Francisco. Also, the crime is very likely to have been committed by young, mostly non-white men who reside in the area, and BART doesn't want to inflame already-negative emotions. For the record I'm in favor of releasing the videos, not only to catch the perpetrators but also to protect the public.

In the March for Science this weekend marchers, and many California authorities, proudly said that they were on the side of "truth." Apparently, they meant only truths that they agreed with.

[Update - 4/25: BART keeps riders in dark about teen mob robbery.]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In Praise of Doubting Thomas

Caravaggio's Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1603)
On the First Sunday after Easter the minister mused sympathetically about Thomas, the disciple who has been pilloried for millennia because mere faith wasn't sufficient for him to believe in the Resurrection:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
[John 20:24-29]
On a weekend where we honor science, let us praise the Thomases who stubbornly insist on seeing the evidence for themselves, despite overwhelming social pressure to go along with the crowd.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Do Not Fear Science, but Embrace It

Over the years Earth Day has become less a day of celebration and more one of advocacy. Example [bold added]:
We need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet. We need to empower everyone with the knowledge to inspire action in defense of environmental protection.
Your humble blogger instinctively reacts negatively to harangues, but today and for the rest of the month I will keep an open mind (after which it will snap shut, there I said it before anyone else did).

Specifically, to salute the first March for Science, also held today, I will honor the principles of the scientific method, that is, I will study facts, examine alternative hypotheses that explain the facts, and evaluate models based not on my biases about how things should be but on how well they predict outcomes.

The Gores in 1973 (photo from Inconvenient Truth)
I will re-read former Vice President Gore's Inconvenient Truth with what I hope will be fresh eyes 11 years after publication---I lazily scanned it when it first came out and read more about the book than the book itself.

Per science marcher Toledo Professor of Astronomy Adolf Witt
“I’m not going to say anything political,” Witt said. “But, obviously if our civilization is to continue, our policies have to be based on fact. On the truth. That’s what science is all about.”
On that I heartily agree.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Neglecting the Basics

The Third World struggles to meet rising electricity demand (yesterday's post), but the First World can't always keep the lights on either.

Massive power outage hits San Francisco, shuts down businesses, BART station, cable cars, traffic lights:
A spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said 88,000 customers lost power and that there had been a fire at a substation at Larkin and Eddy streets. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the fire caused the outage, which swept through the city about 9 a.m., or was ignited as a result of the outage.

At noon, PG&E officials said crews were still working on the problem — and estimated that most customers would have their power restored by 1 p.m. Power was back on for about 10,000 customers at 11:45 a.m.
Most news outlets are saying the outage was due to the power station fire and/or circuit breakers being tripped:

Northern California companies are developing rockets, artificial intelligence, robots, self-driving cars, and virtual reality while the basic infrastructure is crumbling. (I do intend to look at solar energy for ourselves, not because it helps with global warming but because I'll be less dependent on the grid.)

[Update from KRON, Channel 4 news:
As of 1:30 p.m., power has been restored to 15,000 people in the city.

Power has since been restored to Montgomery Station thanks to a backup generator.

Service for the city’s cable car lines was also halted, and no estimation was given for a time of resumption.]

Thursday, April 20, 2017

21st Century Imperialism

Matla Coal-Fired Power Station, South Africa
The quickest means to African development is through the use of coal-fired power plants: [bold added]
African nations have an estimated 35 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves that could supply the continent’s current needs for more than a century.
Solar power has several drawbacks:
Unreliability: “People think of this continent as jungle and sunshine, but we have a long rainy season in the tropics, more like a monsoon, and there’s no sun for days,” [Engineer John] Owusu said. “That makes it hard to rely on something like solar. Wind turbines make more sense, but you still need batteries to store the power.”

Theft: "on a continent where a third of the population lives under the official U.N. poverty line, solar power users need to hire armed guards to prevent the coveted panels from being stolen."
Your humble blogger believes that each country gets to decide what energy path is best for itself. When rich, white societies try to keep poor black countries impoverished, that used to be called racism and imperialism.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Peak Housing?

It must be the curb appeal
Chronicle: Rockridge dump receives 19 offers, sells for quarter-million over asking.
The one-bedroom, two-bath bungalow built in 1905 went on the market in March for $495,000 and sold last week at $755,000...."It's quite hysterical," [listing agent Dalia] Juskys said. "Everything is dilapidated ... The only thing that's livable is the bathroom."
According to Zillow the building and lot size are 988 and 3,432 square feet, respectively. A bargain!

No heavy furniture, please

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tax Day, 2017

This was one of the best tax filing days within memory---all returns mailed by noon, estimates paid, and nothing on extension (OK, there were some delayed information filings that I could have pushed to complete today but didn't.)

Our financial profile is simpler. We've been pruning our accounts and investments, especially those that are easy to consolidate, like CD's and bonds that have not been renewed. But the administrative burden is only a little lower than 2004. Taxes are still way too complex. Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate agrees.
If I had to distill everything I’ve learned into one sentence, it would be this: The root of all evil is the complexity of the tax code...

there are 151 million individual taxpayers, including 27 million who report sole-proprietor or farm business income with their individual returns. There are also nearly nine million pass-through entities (S corporations and partnerships), the income from which is reported on individual income-tax returns. These taxpayers desperately need relief from the extraordinary compliance burdens the tax code imposes.
Ms. Olson has a number of suggestions (e.g., why have twelve different incentives to encourage education savings?), any of which would ease our burden, but I'm not hopeful. As I've written before:
We have a complicated tax profile that is way out of proportion to our income bracket. If any of the political candidates had a credible program to simplify the tax code, I would support that candidate in a heartbeat even if it meant that my bill would be, say, 10% higher.
That was nine years ago.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Just a Mile Away

One benefit of shopping at retail stores is that one is made aware of neighborhood trends. Whole Foods is selling bare bones for meat-like prices; that clued me in to the bone broth craze.

On the negative side, thanks to the Home Depot display, I found that the wealthy Bay Area is one of the most bed bug-infested spots in the nation. Our house has so far escaped the problem, but it's good to know that I can pick up a solution just a mile away.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Here's Looking at You, Kid

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, those who usher sit in the back.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Taxes (Donald Trump's): It Should Be Educational

For the record I would like to take a look at Donald Trump's tax returns....mainly out of curiosity. By examining the hundreds of backup schedules in the returns we could find out a lot about how he and other very rich people arrange their financial affairs. Structures that aren't cost-effective for the upper middle class make sense for the uber-rich who are trying to avoid massive estate and income tax bills.

But back to the original reason for this post: today demonstrators across the country demanded that the President release his tax returns. (Note: here are the first two pages of his 2005 return, which Rachel Maddow released to great fanfare on March 14th.) I don't think that there's anything illegal to be found---similar to the results of the Russian-collusion investigation---and if the progressives aren't careful their complaints will boomerang, just as how the Russian-collusion investigation could lead to the discovery of National Security violations by Obama officials.

Why do I say that any Trump tax revelations will boomerang? Because it's very likely that his tax advisers have taken aggressive but legal positions and that such strategies are likely to be employed by other very wealthy people, more of whom support Democrats than Republicans.

Do the Democrats really want the public to learn how charitable foundations, dynasty trusts, and family partnerships are used to reduce, defer, and avoid taxes? Do they really want a discussion about carried interest, personal holding companies, and inside vs. outside basis?

Let the President reveal his tax returns (in exchange for concessions on tax policy, of course), then have his advisers explain what they did, then watch how Democratic donors tell their supporters to cool it. It should be educational.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fake News....You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Looks more impressive from within than without
Humorist Joe Queenan says that the problem is not fake news, but fake news that makes us feel bad. If it makes us feel good, we should get more of it.
Everybody should have a fake Facebook page where they can pretend to have a great job, spouse and car—and great hair. People should fill their Facebook pages with photos of mountains they have never climbed, reefs never snorkeled, women never dated and degrees never earned. Some Facebook folks already do.
Mr. Queenan's suggestion, while amusing, has a limited shelf-life. Soon the hardware and software will become so advanced that we can create entire virtual worlds that will be indistinguishable from the real thing.

Subject to our imagination, we can be rich, beautiful, talented, and/or famous in virtual reality. The danger is that we will never want to leave.

This week Christians will celebrate Easter, when humankind overcame death. Soon we can overcome the unpleasantness of life by escaping into fake worlds.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Slowness is Good

I missed the video three months ago, but it's gotten a second life on the internet. A 12-foot alligator nicknamed "Humpback" walked across the footpath in the Circle B park in central Florida. Pedestrians watched from a distance that was still much too close for me.

If I ever do go to Florida for pleasure, I will be sure to bring someone in my party who is slower than I am.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Work in Progress

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Get This Story Out of the News, United

When we first saw the video of the passenger being dragged off of United Flight 3411 at O'Hare, we, probably like you, had three reactions:
1) he was brutally treated by the airline;
2) the passenger could have behaved better;
3) there were other ways the airline could have opened up a seat without reaching this point.
Modern journalism insists that we know more. The video will not stand on its own; we need to fill out the backstory. Was the passenger basically a victim or a partial instigator? (The answer does not change our judgment of the airline's actions, however.)

First reaction: he doesn't sound like a good guy. LA Times:
[David] Dao had previously been convicted of six felonies related to his medical practice in 2004, in which he was accused of illegally prescribing painkillers to a patient in exchange for sex.

He was given five years of supervised probation.

Dao surrendered his medical license in 2005
Second reaction: he was trying to turn his life around.
[Dao] applied for reinstatement, telling regulators it was a matter of “family honor.” In a 2014 letter, his attorney described Dao as "a grandfather, an active participant in his local church" who supports an organization that helps the homeless in his community, Elizabethtown, Ky.
Third reaction: he had mental challenges that the United police likely exacerbated.
Dao has a history of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he has received treatment. A 2011 psychological evaluation of Dao concluded that he "lacked the foundation to navigate difficult situations, both inter-personally and in a complex profession.” [snip]

But another psychological evaluation administered in 2013 concluded that Dao “emotionally was free of debilitating anxiety, depression, or psychological turmoil to the extent that it would affect his ability to function in activities of daily living or manage the practice of medicine.”

Regulators cleared Dao to return to medical practice in 2015, in which he was initially restricted to working one day a week, supervised by another doctor.
From sin to repentance to making amends to a violent encounter with authority--a progression that resonates during Holy Week. Settle at any cost, United, and get this story out of the news.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Peggy Picks Up a Pulitzer

Peggy Noonan is a panelist on ABC's Sunday talk show.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wins the the Pulitzer Prize.

Ms. Noonan is one of the very few political professionals who became successful, trusted journalists (the late Tim Russert and William Safire also come to mind).

Excellence in journalism requires knowledge and facility with the language. It also requires a willingness to set aside biases and personal associations in the quest for truthful reporting.

Ms. Noonan was a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush ("thousand points of light" and "kindler, gentler nation" were her creations) and tends toward conservative viewpoints, but she has been critical of Republican politicians and laudatory of Democrats when her principles demanded it.

Long may she write.

Below is her most recent Journal essay, What’s Become of the American Dream?

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday, 2017

Re-entering the nave to "All Glory, Laud, and Honor"
Bedecked in red, the congregation marched around the block in emulation of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem.

This year we read aloud Matthew's account of the events of Holy Week through Good Friday. In a culture that has very few shared rituals it boosts mental health to turn off the cellphones and give undivided attention to what's being said, familiar though it may be.

Next Sunday we'll discover how the story turns out.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Not Fake Science, Yet

(Slide presentation here)
WSJ: Biomedical research has so many problems that most published research findings are false. Follow-up studies on various "breakthroughs" could only reproduce 10% to 50% of the original claimed results.

Problems include:
  • contaminated lab samples [for example, breast-cancer experiments performed on melanoma cells);
  • cherry-picking or massaging data;
  • too-small sample sizes;
  • design flaws (for example, attributing a difference in disease rates to a drug without accounting for the role of genetics);
  • "the professional pressure to get splashy results";
  • not enough money to do experiments without cutting corners.

    The answer, so universal that it's a cliché, is transparency:
    researchers should make all of their methods and data freely available. This would allow the more rapid correction of faulty work—and would also encourage researchers to be more careful in the first place. [Virginia professor Brian] Nosek has created a free online resource called the Open Science Framework that is designed to allow scientists to make their hypotheses, methods, computer code and data freely available. For its part, Johns Hopkins University is pioneering a program that verifies exciting results from lab studies before those findings get passed along to biopharma companies.
    Results of biomedical experiments should indeed be regarded with a great deal of skepticism, but let's put this in perspective: these are flaws of hard science conducted in laboratories, the problems have been recognized, and solutions are being offered.

    Contrast the above with the even less rigorous methods of climate scientists,
  • who cannot conduct double-blind experiments (contemporaneous worlds with and without carbon dioxide concentrations),
  • who are strongly incentivized to cherry-pick and massage data,
  • who don't release the raw data on which their conclusions are based, and
  • whose models consistently predict higher global temperatures than those that actually result.

    But then again, I'm no scientist.
  • Friday, April 07, 2017

    Fake Science

    Ptolemaic system: forcing the data to fit the theory (
    In the Ptolemaic system the Earth was at the center of the universe. The heavenly bodies were thought to move in perfect circles, though from the Earth's perspective they clearly did not. Ptolemy added "eccentricity" and "epicycles" to his theory to not only explain but predict the movements of the sun, moon, stars, and planets. The theory sufficed for over a thousand years.

    As observations became more accurate in the 15th century, tweaks were added to the Ptolemaic system to fit the data to the model, which finally collapsed under its own complexity and the rise of the superior predictive heliocentric model.

    While the historical parallel isn't exact, climate-change models are in the same state as Ptolemy's was, that is, they are unable to explain or predict Earth's temperature with any reliability. Only through tweaking and adjustments are the models able to explain what happened in the past.

    Two factors, the sun (obvious) and cloud cover (not so obvious) appear to have a far more important effect on global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Arguing that man-made CO2 is the primary factor in global warming could be as mistaken as claiming that the Earth is the center of the universe.

    Even if global temperatures are rising, it's far from clear that the world overall would be worse off; for example, a little warming might be appreciated in Northern Canada and Siberia.

    Also, if global cooling instead of global warming has greater than a remote possibility, it's more practical to spend $billions on increasing society's adaptability to change in either direction, rather than place all bets on curtailing carbon dioxide.

    But then again I'm no scientist.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2017

    A Quiet Spot in the Garden

    Twenty (20) months ago a mother duck nested in our backyard. We experienced a great deal of trouble trapping her brood (they couldn't fly over the fence) and moving them to the lagoon.

    We prevented a repeat of the experience last year by keeping a watchful eye on the shrubbery.

    Alas, we let our guard down this winter. A mother duck had found a hidden spot to nest. A cacophony of quacks awoke us this morning.

    The hatchlings were signaling that it was time to leave (and we didn't even have a chance to get acquainted).

    A very intelligent person in our household (you may be surprised to learn it wasn't me, dear reader) figured out that he only needed to capture a few of them---three in this case---and slowly walk around the corner to the gate. The mother followed the quacks-in-the-box, and the rest of the brood trailed the mother. Within a few minutes all were paddling merrily in the lagoon.

    Ducks reach adulthood in about a year. Perhaps we'll see one of them again when it's her turn to find a quiet spot in the garden.

    Tuesday, April 04, 2017

    Sanctuary State: Pushing Too Far

    California's State Senate, partly due to the Republican Party's enfeebled can't-stop-anything minority status, passed the sanctuary state bill on Monday.

    While sanctuary cities have legal issues, sanctuary-state status for California takes matters to a different level, IMHO, but then again I'm not a lawyer. For example,

  • The law enforcement oath of office swears allegiance to "the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California." When State and Federal law conflict, what is a poor LEO to do? In certain situations hesitation kills.
  • The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution subordinates State law to Federal law. The State of California may say Article VI of the U.S. Constitution does not apply, but some U.S. citizens living in California may disagree. If such dissenters report undocumented immigrants to ICE, will California prosecute them?
  • "the California Constitution strongly protects the corporate existence of cities and counties and grants them broad plenary home rule powers. The Constitution gives charter cities, in particular, supreme authority over municipal affairs, even allowing such cities' local laws to trump state law" [Wikipedia]. California has 121 charter cities, not all of whom will agree with California being a sanctuary state. What will be the State's response if a charter city cooperates with ICE?
  • The U.S. government has many weapons at its disposal to force compliance, ranging from withholding Federal payments to refusing to grant any California green cards to shutting off key information (e.g., successful IRS audits of Californians) that the State needs to perform its business.
  • The majority of Californians dislike the current state of immigration law, but forcing us to choose between the U.S. or the California Constitution may provide an unpleasant surprise to those who pushed this dislike too far.

    [Update - 4/9: Law enforcement officers for counties in non-coastal California will support Federal law. If California becomes a sanctuary state, this county will resist]

    Monday, April 03, 2017

    Making American Equities Great

    It was only six years ago that Standard & Poors downgraded U.S. Treasury debt to AA+ because of government failure to "stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics."

    S&P was right about where the national debt was headed: it was nearly $15 trillion in 2011 and is $20 trillion today.

    (Economist graph)
    Investors worldwide shrugged off the downgrade; since 2011 they've been buying U.S. financial assets hand over fist. In fact the American stock market is worth more than the rest of the world combined:
    the American market has a weighting of 54% in the [MSCI All Country World] index, as high as it has ever been (it reached the same level in 2002).
    By traditional standards the 54% weighting seems much too high because the U.S. economy comprises less than 25% of the world's GDP. Nevertheless, the combination of overall safety and a chance to participate in leading global companies like Amazon, Apple, Bank of America, Exxon, Facebook, and Google are hard to pass up.

    U.S. bonds may have lost their lustre, but riskier American equities are looking pretty great.

    Sunday, April 02, 2017


    (Wikipedia map)
    Most religions believe in the immutability of human nature. But religions themselves have changed for the better. How do we know this? Not one today practices human sacrifice, which was commonplace in the ancient world.

    Besides appeasing the gods, human sacrifice had another effect; it cemented social stratification, i.e., inequality, in the societies that practiced it. [bold added]
    The researchers found that human sacrifice was widespread in Austronesia, occurring in 25% of egalitarian cultures, 37% of moderately stratified societies and a whopping 67% of highly stratified cultures. Stratification and human sacrifice were clearly linked—but did one cause the other? [snip]

    They found that the practice [of human sacrifice] had a twofold impact, historically, on Austronesian societies: It made them significantly less likely to turn in an egalitarian direction and significantly more likely to become more hierarchical. In other words, the ritualistic sacrificing of humans seems to have stabilized and deepened social inequalities.

    Despite melodramatic legends of tribes sacrificing their chiefs to the gods once they got over the hill, the reality appears to have been different. In Austronesia, the new research confirms, the message to those of low status was none too subtle: Don’t cause trouble, or yours may be the heart that the gods just happen to pick as a pleasing gift at the next ceremony.
    Human sacrifice and inequality? What barbarians those people were!

    Saturday, April 01, 2017

    April Fool's Day Should Be Retired

    Causing someone to believe that fake news--the more ridiculous the better--was true used to be a lot easier. People in general used to be more trusting because, IMHO, people were more trustworthy.

    April Fool's Day was understood to be a day off from integrity, when one could freely dispense falsehoods without damaging one's reputation. It was a day of lighthearted fun.

    The President of the United States has been called to task for his exaggerations, if not outright lies. But every President has lied, and perhaps President Trump will indeed end up to be the worst prevaricator ever to occupy the Oval Office.

    What's different this time is that we have found that we cannot trust anyone, even the institutions that are supposed to value truth above furtherance of any cause. Lying is not the only form of deception. News organizations have been proven to leave out key information that doesn't fit the narrative---it's as if a prosecutor doesn't reveal that the defendant had an alibi---in the furtherance of a partisan agenda.

    It's time to retire April Fool's Day. It ain't so funny any more.